File Under: Programming

Tutorial ‘O The Day: Be A Better Blogger

FullspeedStructure matters. If you want your blog to be more discoverable to those searching Google, you need to tell Google what your site is about. Once upon a time there was an HTML meta tag that could do that for you, but then spammers abused the heck out of those so Google and the rest largely ignore them now. So how can you tell Google what your site is about?

In the process of digging through Google’s revamped Webmaster Tools earlier today I learned about some more things I’ve done on my personal blog that were not a good idea. So, armed with my own stupidity as an example, here’s a case study of what not to do (you could also view source on this page for a good example of bad structural decisions — sigh).

Google prioritizes items on your page using (X)HTML structural elements. For instance, wrapping something in an h1 tag will tell Google the contents of that tag are more important than the contents of what’s inside and h2 tag. And so on. Do not for instance add a span tag with an RSS feed inside your h2 tag because it allows you to work around an IE 5.5 float bug. This will cause Google to think that the link and text inside it are just as important as your headline.

Which brings me to today’s two pronged point. Structure your pages well using semantically meaningful HTML and learn to love the lede.

Until I started working for this fine journalistic institution, I thought “lede” was some sort of obscure reference to Leda, but it turns out that is incorrect. After my training period (ordering All The Presidents Men from Netflix) I learned that lede refers to the first sentence of your post, which ideally should sum up roughly everything you’re writing about — the 5 W’s. Your reader should be able to skim the lead and more or less know what you’re going to say.

If you’re like me you don’t naturally think of ledes and in fact you might even pride yourself on long winded introductions that frequently have nothing to do with what you’re writing, that’s fine but you should still write a lede. True a blog is not a newspaper, but in many ways search engine spiders read your page as if it were a newspaper — they skim it, pull out what’s marked up as important data and move on.

If you feel like the lede is cramping your creative style just stick it above your article like a long sub-headline or off in a sidebar, but tag it with high priority tags so the spiders take notice. Wrap your ledes in tags that are one headline level less than your headline, because, while I can’t guarantee it, I’d be willing to bet that it will end up being the two line excerpt that appears below your page headline in Google search results.

Armed with that brief and pithy synopsis, potential readers will theoretically be more inclined to click through to your site than if your page summary in Google’s search results reads: “click for RSS feed.”

Of course this is largely speculation on my part since I don’t know the inner workings of Google’s page crawling methods — YMMV. And not to undercut my own point, but there’s also something to be said for writing truly bizarre, but compelling ledes that pique a searcher’s curiosity.

Speaking of which, before we go I wanted to address something John Brownlee over at Table of Malcontents brought up about yesterday’s tutorial (which applies to today’s as well). Brownlee argues that titles (and ledes) aren’t as important as I’ve made them out to be.

The thing of prime importance in running a successful blog is consistently writing enough content that people know that every time they come back, there’ll be something new. Traffic begets bigger traffic: if you’re making the posts, people will keep checking, and more and more links will come into your site.

And that is absolutely correct. These added tips are built on the assumption that you’re already producing interesting content and producing it frequently. If you don’t start with basics none of these fine tuning tips are going to make up for your lack of quality content. If you don’t build it, they won’t come.

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